What are Types of Zoonotic Diseases?

February 20, 2014

Zoonotic diseases, those that can be transferred from animals to humans, should always be kept in mind when working with animals.  Although there aren’t many of them, some can be life threatening if not recognized in time.

Perhaps the most feared zoonotic disease is rabies.  In animals the symptoms include changes in personality (ie a wild animal appears to want affection, or a domestic animal, usually very docile suddenly becomes aggressive), lack of fear, inability to swallow.  It is 100% fatal if not treated in time. If there is any question as to whether an animal you encountered was rabid, seek medical treatment immediately.

Most other zoonotic diseases are parasitic in nature.  These include, but are not limited, to the following:

  • Worms – these intestinal parasites are transmitted through feces or contact with soil or other items that have come in contact with infected feces. There are several types of worms, including hookworms and roundworms that are common in both domestic and wild species.  All contact with fecal matter should be avoided.
  • Cryptosporidiosis – this is a parasite that lives in water.  It is most often contracted by exposure to water that has been soiled by fecal matter. The symptoms of a cryptosporidiosis include frequent bouts of watery diarrhea, stomach cramping and if untreated, life threatening dehydration
  • Lyme disease – although the organism that causes this disease is not a parasite, the means of transmission is. Lyme disease is carried by ticks that infect their host when they bite them. Symptoms of Lyme Disease in humans include fever, general malaise and a rash at the site of infection.  Sometimes the symptoms are minimal, but chronic, untreated Lyme Disease can lead to organ damage.
  • Toxoplasmosis – this disease is not parasitic. It is most often associated with the handling of cat litter, but the fact is that any warm blooded animal can carry it and the handling of raw meat has been known to transmit it.  In most cases of human infection the disease is almost asymptomatic, however, pregnant women need to be especially careful when handling animal feces as the disease can cause great damage to a developing fetus.

If you suspect you are suffering from an illness contracted through contact with animals be sure to inform your doctor when seeking treatment.  Zoonotic diseases may not be their first thought and being unaware may lead to misdiagnoses or delay in receiving proper treatment.

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